Much has been made of Borussia Dortmund’s fast start to the season, but could Julian Nagelsmann’s magic touch help Leipzig dethrone Bayern Munich as champions instead?
With their crunch home match with Bayern on Matchday 4 after the September international break in mind, bundesliga.com takes a closer look at why Leipzig can feel confident after three wins from three so far…
There was plenty of excitement around Leipzig before the 2019/20 campaign got underway, but Julian Nagelsmann will have known that there were no guarantees that things would click into place straightaway.
Watch: The key men for RB Leipzig
The 32-year-old had arrived at the club over the summer following a hugely successful spell with Hoffenheim, and he felt – along with none other than Dortmund captain Marco Reus – that Leipzig could force their way into the title mix.
The early fixture list, however, threw up a host of challenges for the team that finished third last season. Nagelsmann’s first Bundesliga match at Leipzig would also be Union Berlin’s first in the top flight, which on paper looked like a particularly awkward away tie for the new head coach.
After that, they had to face three other teams who had brilliant seasons in 2018/19: Eintracht Frankfurt (7th in the Bundesliga and UEFA Europa League semi-finalists), Borussia Mönchengladbach (5th), and Bayern (league and cup double winners).
First up, though, Nagelsmann and Co. had to negotiate a tricky away match against second-tier Osnabrück in the DFB Cup. Marcel Sabitzer scored twice in a 3-2 win, which proved a useful preparation for their Bundesliga opener at newly-promoted Union.
Far from being intimidated by a hostile welcome in the German capital, however, the visitors made a potentially difficult first match look easy. They cruised to a 4-0 victory – with star striker Timo Werner opening his account for the season.
"We have now played two big away games in intimidating atmospheres," said Nagelsmann after the Union game. "That's not easy - but we have shown we deserved to be favourites."
Watch: Leipzig's dream start at Union
Peter Gulacsi, who kept 16 clean sheets in 33 matches for the team that had the league’s best defence last season, said Leipzig’s opening league win showed that they could well challenge Bayern and Dortmund.
"We have a very young team still and we had a fantastic season last season," the Hungarian goalkeeper told bundesliga.com. "We thought 'OK, let's improve and try to make the gap to the top two teams a little bit smaller.' Of course we want to compete with those teams, and I think we have the squad for that and the potential in our team for that."
Attacking midfielder Sabitzer scored in Berlin as well, and he suggested that the players were swiftly buying into Nagelsmann’s desire for an attractive, attacking playing style.
"I like how the coach lets us play, and I wanted to pay him back on the pitch," the Austria international said afterwards.
Marcel Halstenberg said the side had carried out exactly what they had prepared in training, but that approach would be further examined in their first home game of the campaign. Leipzig only lost one match in front of their own support last term, but Eintracht - who were pipped for a top-four place in the final weeks - had left with a scoreless draw on their last visit.
Once again, though, Leipzig passed the test – having been boosted by Werner’s decision to extend his contract with the club. The German forward marked the news with an early goal against the Eagles, and that was added to by a late one from Yussuf Poulsen in a 2-1 win. Those two combined for 31 Bundesliga goals last season, and Nagelsmann was thankful that their quality had got his side over the line.
Watch: Leipzig's win over Frankfurt
"A draw would probably have been a fair result," the head coach admitted. "It wasn't easy to build pressure against Frankfurt… it was a lucky win that's pleasing for us."
Grinding out wins when not at your best is the sign of a good team – and characteristic of title-winning sides in particular. With momentum building, Sabitzer again hailed the impact of Nagelsmann ahead of the trip to Mönchengladbach on Matchday 3.
"He's young, dynamic, full of life, and he exudes that every day when you see him," the former Rapid Vienna player told bundesliga.com. "He strikes a good balance between having fun while also expecting a lot from us out on the pitch."
He was less forthcoming about what Nagelsmann had changed, but it’s clear that the former Hoffenheim boss is already building on what Ralf Rangnick had put in place last term.
"I don't want to say too much - we keep our ideas and playing style secret," Sabitzer said. "But like I said, the coach has a unique perception of football. He is very detailed in his approach in terms of how he sees situations on the pitch. He shows us very clearly, using video analysis, what we need to do. I will leave it at that."
A title-winning side needs a talismanic frontman, and Nagelsmann's influence obviously had a bearing on Werner's decision to commit his long-term future to the club.
"We have a new coach and better players," the 23-year-old said, when explaining, before the Gladbach game, why he had put pen-to-paper. "I saw that there was potential, and I've seen that we can really challenge this year."
With a UEFA Champions League campaign to come, Leipzig have boosted their squad depth with the additions of reserve goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner, defensive-minded players Luan Candido and Ethan Ampadu, as well as attacking talents such as Ademola Lookman, Christopher Nkunku, and Hannes Wolf.
It was the tried and trusted, however, who Nagelsmann sent into battle in week three. Gladbach have their own new and exciting coach this season in Marco Rose, but again it was the Leipzig boss who came out on top – with Werner’s hat-trick in a 3-1 success making it three wins from three.
It marked another impressive road win, and another sign of the never-say-die attitude that Leipzig are developing.
"It's not easy to come to Gladbach and win but we did really well - especially in terms of our mentality," said Swedish star Emil Forsberg.
Watch: Werner on his first Bundesliga hat-trick
With Malian Amadou Haidara making his first appearance of the season in that game, and fellow midfielder and US international Tyler Adams still to come back from injury, things are looking up for Leipzig.
The biggest examination of all will come on Matchday 4, however, when they take on serial winners Bayern. Nagelsmann went unbeaten in his first three games as a manager against the record German champions, so he’ll be hopeful of causing another upset. The in-form Warner is thinking along the same lines.
"Now we've got a fantastic home game against Bayern and if we can get something from that, then it could really give us some momentum for the whole season," he said.
Watch: Leipzig 4-5 Bayern - the Bundesliga's greatest game?
The Bayern match comes a few days before Leipzig travel to Portugal, where they will take on Benfica in their first Champions League group game. Nagelsmann’s stated aim is to reach the last 16 of that competition, and further progress in the DFB Cup could also reveal much about the limits of his squad’s strength.
But after a dream start in the Bundesliga, Leipzig might just be reassessing their hopes of challenging for the title. Despite only just arriving at the club, Nagelsmann’s ideas already seem to be taking hold – Bayern and Dortmund had better watch out.
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